Kids love to learn, but some lessons are easier to impart than others. When it comes to how to teach a child to wait their turn, things can get a little tricky... not least because most kids aren't particularly in love with the concept of waiting to do something they really want to do. So how do we show our children to be patient until their time comes, especially since it seems like many folks weren’t taught that lesson when they were children these days?
“All ways of helping build a child's patience take time, and are worthwhile supports to put in place — waiting simply isn't easy,” says Jessica Rolph, co-founder, CEO, and child development expert at Lovevery. “Narrating and previewing are useful: Talk about what's happening and what's about to happen, so it's not a surprise. For example, ‘You're playing with the truck now, and in two minutes it's going to be Maria's turn, and she will get to play with it for a while.’ The concept of time is still vague, but this helps children start gaining a better sense of it.”
Dr. Gina Posner, a board certified pediatrician at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California, adds that modeling this behavior is one of the most helpful things you can do. “Practice what you preach by modeling this good behavior. Stand in line with them and show them exactly how you get behind the last person in line.”
“Taking turns can be a challenge for young kids because it might feel unpredictable: what are the rules? Why do we take turns with certain objects and not others? Why do we have to do this at all,” Rolph says. “It also can feel like a constant disappointment, in that children have a beloved item taken from them every few minutes while taking turns.” To combat this feeling, Rolph suggests "choosing a few well-loved toys that are off-limits for sharing or turn-taking, providing duplicates of favorites (if possible), and using a visual timer — a sand timer works great — to make turn-taking more fun for everyone involved."
What age should you start instilling this behavior in your child so it will have a better chance of sticking? Rolph says around age 2 is a good time to begin. “Turn-taking at this age will almost always need to be heavily supported and guided by an adult, as children are in the early stages of learning about the world outside their own minds — empathy and perspective-taking aren't a reality yet,” she says.
“You should introduce the concept starting when they are younger," Posner adds, "but most of them don’t grasp it until at least age 3 (and even though they might grasp it, they probably don’t want to do it).”
When your child is around 2 or 3, talk them through certain scenarios where waiting their turn needs to happen, and model the proper behavior in front of them whenever you can. Doing these things will hopefully ensure your child doesn't grow up to be an awful city driver and perhaps means they'll even learn to be a patient person.
Dr. Gina Posner, a board certified pediatrician at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California.
Jessica Rolph, co-founder, CEO, and child development expert at Lovevery.